Photos by Pierre Toussaint
Midway through 2016, Instagram made a small update to their video settings.
Users could now upload one-minute videos—four times longer than the 15-second tidbits available before then. For most people, it didn’t really mean that much. But to 19-year-old guitarist Tash Wolf it was a pretty big deal. “The possibilities of making guitar videos started to work, a minute was enough time to show what you do,” she says. And so, a nervous Tash uploaded her first video: head out of frame, camera centred on a smooth minute of an original tune that dripped like honey off the Ibanez—one of her favourite guitars. The 90, 000 followers who quickly joined her were enamoured with the talented young guitarist who, whilst shy answering questions, is far from bashful once she’s plugged into an amp.
The fact that a social media platform has me sitting opposite the long-limbed Tash at a Sydney café, after little more than watching some videos of her expertly noodling on the guitar in her bedroom, is still a strange concept—to me, anyway. But Tash is savvy to the potential of her online output, and as a young musician it’d be hard to disregard how others have succeeded in getting their work out without a record deal. An unsigned Chance the Rapper was the first artist to ever win a Grammy with a streaming-only album thanks to his humble SoundCloud account, and a once unknown and 16-year-old Lorde had her single “Royals” added to a Spotify playlist with almost one million followers, and well, now I’m using her as a case study.
It was sites such as YouTube that Tash used to teach herself when she was younger. “I was getting lessons from someone who lived upstairs, they were a musician,” she tells me. “They taught me the basics, but when they eventually moved out I decided to do research on my own. So for a couple of years I did it by myself by watching things online.”
But before the covers and her original songs (of which she’s now written 10 and performed a handful of times) she says it was one song in particular that sparked her interested in learning the guitar. Growing up, her dad always had a classical guitar kicking around their place, and he decided to teach her a Beatles song one weekend. “It was a classical version of ‘Yesterday’ and I picked it up really quickly,” Tash says. “I just love that song. I felt so compelled to learn it. I’ve always been determined with anything I do, so I pursued it.” Tash speaks with a kind of soft determination; when she tells me that music is the kind of thing “you’ll never really have under your belt”, I can see it’ll still be a lifelong pursuit.
Blues and jazz are her thing, she tells me when I ask how she’d define her style. Which makes sense when I question Tash on her musical inspirations and she rattles off a list that’d be foreign to a good deal of her peers: Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, George Benson, Joe Cass, Wes Montgomery, Daniel Cesar, John Mayer and Chet Baker.
But when you watch her playing her Strat or Ibanez, head popping backwards and forwards with her eyes closed as she plucks out a groove with pure enjoyment, it’s clear that being force-fed top 40 hits wouldn’t cut it for her. “Sometimes when I come up with a riff or something, I’m writing it and just have so much energy for it and I feel… I know it’s going to be a good song because it affects me here,” she says with her hand pressed to her chest.
And it’s a feeling she’s trying to migrate to her live performances, most recently with her band The Six Foot Babies (everyone in the band is literally over six foot). But any of Tash’s quiet demeanour in person is left off-stage as she shreds fearlessly front of stage with her band as backup. Tash isn’t so sold on the “fearless” part, however. “I’ve always been a pretty nervy person, like when your hands are shaking, that’s the worst ’cause you can’t actually play; it really hinders your ability,” she says. “When I go on a stage that’s elevated, it’s all nerves. People can see you, there’s lights. But I feel like every time I perform, I get better at it.”
And she’s definitely got some more gig experience in her near future. She’s heading to play at the Byron Bay Guitar Fest, solo, and then onwards to LA on Fender dime—whose guitars she’s just a little fond of—to check out what LA has on offer modelling agency wise (she is currently signed to Chadwick Models back home in Sydney). Tash has a lot to look forward to, but for now she’s just excited about the journey rather than the destination: “Byron Bay is going to be my first ever plane trip.”